Papercrete for Fairy Gardens

Many of you may have heard of hypertufa, a mixture comprised usually of perlite, sand, peat moss and portland cement. Used first by alpine gardeners to emulate the natural tufa rock often associated with alpine plants (plants that grow above the treeline), the hypertufa mixture is used to free form artificial rock or in forms to produce gardening containers. It has a very beautiful and natural look and the peat moss and pearlite make them light weight. It has, in my opinion, three draw backs. It’s mucky to work with and it needs to be cured (dried) and leached out in water or rain for several weeks before use. In cold climates it also has a tendency to crack or deteriorate over the winter if left out doors.

Fairy Garden in a Papercrete Container made at  Papercrete Class from Lee Coates (

Fairy Garden in a Papercrete Container made at Papercrete Class from Lee Coates (

Enter papercrete! Papercrete is a mixture of paper pulp, perlite or vermiculite, and portland cement. Fillers such as sand are optional to produce different effects and textures. The paper pulp is produced by shredding any used paper you have, soaking it for a day or two in water and then pulping it with a paint mixer attachment on a drill. Lee Coates, papercreter extraordinaire, says various papers produce unique results  but his preference is good old newspaper as it is readily available in large quantities, it has a long fiber for strength and is easy to shred and pulp .


Newspaper and water pulped into an ‘oatmeal’ consistency.

How does it hold up? From Lee Coates’ Papercrete Blog : The most frequently asked question is, “How do they hold up in the water?” After shoppers find that paper is one of the ingredients in the recipe of our product I find that it is a fair question. The paper is just a fiber source that is encased by portland cement… I cannot say how long the product will hold up but we have had some of the pots in ground contact for several years without any deterioration. What we build each year once dry gets placed outside on pallets to suffer whatever Mother Nature throws at them. Containers built in the Fall are built for sale the following year so they are subjected to rain, snow, sleet, hail, and ice throughout the Winter. How do they hold up? About the same as the sidewalk in front of the house!

papercrete-in-the-snowThe basic recipe for papercrete is approximately 3 parts paper pulp, 2 parts portland cement and 1 part perlite and other optional fillers. Getting the paperpulp made to the right consistency is key. Too wet and the mixture is slumpy and if too dry – crumbly. Make small batches to experiment and get your mixture to your liking.


Hand application of papercrete in a dollar store scalloped edge salad bowl mold

To make containers  you can use anything fairly smooth coated with a bit of vegetable oil to allow easy release. Ideally, the container should be shaped in a somewhat tapering shape in such a way as to make the finished product easy to remove once dry. For an 18″ container the thickness of the papercrete should be about 3/4″. Just take handfulls of your mixture and hand form it and pat it to compact it into your mold of choice. Allow it to dry for 24 to 48 hours and remove from mold. Drainage hole can be made during by finger poking or after with a drill.

first-planters-out-of the mold

Newly released from their molds after 24 hours these containers were purposely made and left with rough top edges.

Papercrete can easily be sanded, drilled, and sawed after it is thoroughly dry. Cement dyes can be used to color it or thinned paint can be used to stain it afterwards. Adding a small amount of latex paint during mixing adds even more durability and resiliency to the end product and also acts to neutralize alkalinity.  When can you use it. Right away!

Papercrete can also be used to make fairy houses and in some places in the United States it is being used in large scale projects to build real houses!

Papercrete miniature house and molds by Lee Coates

Papercrete miniature house and molds by Lee Coates

An experiment of my own using a one part mold for the house and a one part mold for the roof of a papercrete fairy house needs some refinement although the basic idea seems to work.

Papercrete miniature house newly released from one piece mold

Papercrete miniature house newly released from one piece mold

In the final analysis, having played with both hypertufa and papercrete I find several advantages to papercrete. First it’s ‘greener’- I love the idea that it uses a resource that would otherwise be filling our landfills. It is also so clean and easy to work with , can be used right away, and appears to stand up well to freeze and thaw conditions. It’s versatile – it can be easily cut, drilled, sanded, colored , screwed and glued! What more could you want?


Many thanks to Lee Coates for introducing me to the wonderful world of papercrete and allowing me to use information and pictures from his blog.

Papercrete Pots by Lee Coates

Papercrete Pots by Lee Coates











25 thoughts on “Papercrete for Fairy Gardens

    • Marianne, Portland cement comes in 40kg bags at Home Depot for under $13. 40 kgs will make A LOT of papercrete!And cheap sand (sharp sand from Home Depot)can be substituted for some or all of the pearlite or vermiculite, but the result will be heavier. All in all I estimate that a 12″ planter such as the one pictured with the pond probably cost about $4 to make.

  1. Very cool! I cannot wait to try this! I was wondering what consistency is the pulp? Is there a relative relationship between the amount of paper and water used to make the pulp? Thanks!

    • You are looking for a thick oatmeal consistency. Whatever amount of water you start with…put as much shredded paper into it as it will take and soak for at least 24 hrs.Truth to tell I’ve just made three different batches. One was too wet..the muck slumped a little while making the scalloped bowl container. The next was too dry and made mixing difficult and was a little bit crumbly when working with it – requiring more effort to compact it –lots of patting. However, all the projects turned out great..some just took longer to dry than others and the wet mix turned out a slightly more resilient container..not a bad thing! So – conclusion – a very forgiving recipe. Just play with it. I did read somewhere a suggestion to make very small batches with a food processor or blender to experiment with your mixture while keeping track of the proportions of the ingredients.Then just expand the recipe you are happy with. Good luck..and keep me posted on your experiences. Marthe

  2. Lovely work! Two ?’s…. What type of glue would you use to join pieces? How are your hands at the end of the project, do you wear gloves? Thanks for your sharing!

    • Hi Eileen. I do not wear gloves..which is one of the many things I like about papercrete… I hate wearing gloves! My hands are, of course a little dried out afterwards (from the portland cement I suspect). But a good wash and some moisturizer and good as new. Liquid nails works great for the papercrete house parts. Good and strong and suitable for out doors. Marthe

      • cement will ruin your jewelry very quickly, even wearing gloves. REMOVE your jewelry anytime working with cement.

      • Thank you for contributing ..great tip. Also if you don’t like wearing gloves try liquid gloves. If going bare handed like I usually do …be sure to wash very thoroughly afterwards with a neutral hand soap (Ivory) and have a good hand moisturizer on the ready to apply a few times. Your hands will be very very dry after playing with cement. Marthe

  3. Where can you buy the fairy house molds? I make a lot of hyper tufa but this looks like i could do this indoors…. I am tired of winters in Ohio! Thank you!

    • Hi Mary. We made the molds form plywood and wood strips. To make things release easily oil has to be used in the molds. SO..we sealed the wood with some water based sealer first to keep the oil from soaking in. Marthe

  4. Thanks for the great info! Very well explained. Do you think this recipe would work to make a raised bed for gardening or edging around my flower beds?

    • Hi Jana. I have seen some rather large troughs made of papercrete. I have also read Much about papercrete bricks and sheets being made to actually build houses out of. Worth some lookin into. I can’t see why you couldn’t use it to make edging or even raised beds. I left my paer crete house out all winter this year and no damage what soever. And it went through several very cold freezing snaps here in SW Ontario. Marthe

    • Hi Katya. There are a few ways that you can color the house. You can buy cement dye at a home renovation center. They often only carry a few colors but more are available if you search online. You can ad Latex paint to your mixture. This will only make a slight color change but has some other good effects. The latex additive seems to help the mixture cure, ads stability, and some say that the alkalinity neutralizes faster. You can also stain the house after it cures or even wash it with paint. One more ideas..add moss…Go ahead and experiment:) Marthe

  5. I would like to try this with my girl scouts as they have a Brozne award to earn and making fairy houses would be great using this. to me this sounds like a lot of fun

    • Oh yes. It’s great fun. Free hand houses would be just the ticket for you. Take a look at Walkers Way weeds ) there is a link under blogs I follow on the right on my blog. You will see some ideas. Simply crunching up news paper can make a form that you put papercrete over to make a hobbit home or fairy house free hand:) have fun with paint mixed into the papercrete or paint it afterwards and seal it with a spray sealer suitable for out door use.

  6. Like the hypertufa pots, is there anything that I should avoid using as a mold? It has been suggested with the hypertufa mix I should avoid using any metal for molds.

    • HI Cora. No – you can use any material for molds..even wood. Just be sure to coat the mold surface with oil to facilitate easy release. ( I just use vegetable oil from the kitchen cupboard) Marthe

    • Sorry for delay in responding Collen. Although the papercrete planter looks like cement it is about 1/4 the weight. The weight exactly depends on the size of the planter of course… an 11″ round planter approximately 5.5″ high with .75 inch thick, slightly tapering towards the bottom weighs about 5 lbs. Hope this helps:) Marthe

  7. Hi, I love this Idea!
    What is “Porland cement” ? Is a brand or a specific kind of cement? Can I use any tips of cement? Or only this? Thanks

    • Portland Cement is a type of cement. It is the additive used with sand and gravel to make concrete. It is a dusty powder and care should be taken to not inhale the dust when using it. It is sold in bags in most home renovation stores and is quite inexpensive. It usually comes in larger quantities than you will need for many small batches of papercrete. Another fun idea using cement is cement soaked cloth which can be molded into interesting sculptures and shapes. Google that! Have fun, Marthe

  8. Hi Marthe, This looks like fun! Can large sculptural forms be made from papercrete or large pots? Thank you, I can’t wait to try it …

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